Dan Humphrey never had a thing for birthdays. Rather, he regarded them as noisy, crowded parties set up for interactions between snobbish people. The only force helping him endure the petrifying events was the thought of meeting his one love and teenage crush: Serena van der Woodsen.
Today, now, to finally be with her at last. To be her boyfriend, a status he initially could only dream of, was a challenging relationship he had to balance. Her birthday was, for instance, an opportunity he could not miss.
The must of giving her something worthy of his Brooklyn affections, something much better than a mere everyday kiss.
A present for the Upper East Side Princess, a challenge for the Brooklyn boy.
The question was: Where to start?
Excluding Vanessa Abrams, Dan had never bought a present as a token of his feelings to another girl. His mother taking a leave of absence from the family, the nearest and most convenient, trustable female consultant and confidant he could reach in the apartment was his sixteen-year-old fashionista, street-savvy sister, Jenny.
This summer morning, Dan got up early, on account of the invisible but absurdly punctual alarm clock in his messed-up head's reminder that Serena's birthday was today. Putting on his usual outfit of T-Shirt and jeans, he walked out to join Jenny at the counter for their usual breakfast: coffee and waffles.
"Hey," Jenny looked up, greeting him with a simple gesture of her fork. "Anything you need to tell me?"
Chuckling softly to himself as he settled down on his stool, Dan shook his head. Give it to Jenny for being a model sister. She could always tell when he had something up his sleeve.
"Well, I was going to discuss a very important subject," he declared as-a-matter-of-factly, stirring his coffee. "But you beat me to it first."
Jenny sipped her drink. "Is it Serena's birthday?"
"What—what did you say?" Dan asked. Since her disastrous internship at Eleanor's, Jenny had, unfortunately, carried on her high-wired, hyperactive way of talking, and he had yet to catch up with the Humphreys' new energy source's every excited sentence.
"Serena's birthday," his sister repeated, slower this time. "Eric told me it's today, right?" At this, she nudged him at the elbow. "I suppose, being her boyfriend, you might want to get her a special gift."
Dan shrugged, out of words. "Thanks for being so understanding of your big brother, Jen."
"Always a pleasure." She grinned back.
He turned his full attention on her. "Now spill. Inform me of Serena. Or at least a girl's ideal birthday celebration."
"Don't take any of my parties for examples," Jenny muttered quickly, snorting. "Uh…Serena? You know she loves any cheerful and bright colors. Would go for any expensive brand name products—"
He cut her off. "All this I know, Jenny. I've been obsessed with her long enough. Just what to get her?"
She made a face.
"A handbag? A purse? A what?"
With a sigh, Jenny said decisively, "If you want my advice, give her something unforgettable—a gift she'd treasure of memories of you and her. And the birthday party? Choose her favorite restaurant, or the place she feels most at home. With you. Remember to be yourself."
Be yourself. Dan repeated the words in his head.
Only, would Serena like him as he was, the Brooklyn Boy?
Next, Dan called Serena's closest contact: Blair Waldorf, in hopes of scavenging any usable piece of information.
To his knowledge, Blair was Serena's best friend since kindergarten, and, heck, she had to know something.
After several seconds of dial tone, she picked up. There's a muffled sound at the end of the line, mixed with a girl's—obviously Blair's—giggling.
Then the voice Dan least expected to hear, at least in the morning when he's sober enough for fresh air, spoke into his ears.
"Chuck Bass here. If you're dialing for Blair Waldorf, call back later. She's quite preoccupied with me at the moment."
Not knowing whether to laugh or alert the Upper East Siders who he was first, Dan shook his head, starting to reply, when, presumably at reclaiming her cell from Chuck after a not-so-loud groan, endless chuckles, and a "You Motherchucker," remark, Blair got on.
Weird. He had never heard Chuck Bass laugh, or, much less see a smile.
"Okay, Brooklyn," she said. "What can I do for you? You're lucky to call now, so be warned. I'm not usually this nice."
This nice. Dan shuddered. Nice was as far a word he would choose to describe a girl as Blair Waldorf.
He could hear Chuck bellow into the cell. "That's my girl," only to be interrupted by another "ouch" and a slap sound.
"Well?" Blair asked impatiently. Dan would not have been surprised if she started tapping her foot the next minute.
"Well," he repeated her question. "I'm planning a special present for Serena's birthday. Trouble is, I don't know what to get yet. Perhaps, as a best friend, you could be of assistance?"
It seemed his ears were not mistaken. Blair was audibly laughing at him. "Such a catastrophic coincidence," she remarked, Dan's eyebrows stitching up at her words, "Chuck and I were just in the middle of the same thing you are."
Are you sure? asked Dan's mind, but his mouth knew better to keep silent.
"Before Chuck interrupted me, that is," Blair continued, editing herself.
He could hear Chuck respond in a self-defensive tone, as if to amend her. "Aw, come on. Is that your new name for my kisses, interruption?"
"From you, yes. Add a continuation of making out to that list of yours, too." Blair's mock annoyed voice distanced from the cell, Dan imagining her speak back to the Bass playboy, as she edged away from her cell in an attempt to avoid such a conversation reaching the ears of a lowly person as he was regarded.
But he took pleasure in relishing the hilarity of them being—or striving to being—with each other nevertheless.
"Since you didn't tell me to stop, I wouldn't mind interrupting you now and then," Chuck whispered into the cell, kissing Blair loudly on the lips, Blair snapping, "Stop it, Chuck."
Chuck, honestly, was Dan's sole disturbing notion of ringing up the Denial King and Queen.
Trying to control his laughter and to smooth out his voice, Dan spoke into the cell.
"Can we get back to business now?"
Blair and Chuck were, much to Dan's surmised disappointment, completely and utterly useless.
With his first two fruitless destinations of Jenny's gloomy forewarning advice and Blair and Chuck's hopeless banter—which did not benefit him or his love life as it did them, Dan was lost on his plan to Serena's ideal birthday present or party.
Then he remembered there was one last available resource in the Upper East Side, one person more trustable than Blair and Chuck combined.
He began texting Nathaniel Archibald.
If you're free, meet me up at the Café. Serena's birthday emergency discussion. Help needed. Thanks,
To his delight, the cell immediately vibrated in response.
No problem. I'll be there in ten.
Nate showed up in a simple attire, yet still attracting stares from the females in the room. He didn't seem to mind the attention directed at him, as Dan noticed, walking straight to Dan's table.
"So," Nate smiled as he sat down, "A Serena's Birthday Emergency Discussion, huh?"
Dan coughed, offering the menu to Nate. "Yeah. Want some coffee?"
Seeing Nate shake his head no, Dan continued in a business-like tone. "I'm about near giving up. I asked Jenny. Called up Blair and Chuck. Turned out I was interrupting one of their sessions. And no, didn't manage to get anything off them."
Nate gave an understanding nod. "Blair and Chuck sessions. Tsk, tsk," he mused, "And little J. It'd be crazy to know she can help you plan a Serena party, considering the hijacking of her sweet sixteen." He paused, Dan murmuring, "That's true," to himself.
"What'd you want to know, then?"
The question hung in the air, unanswered.
"In all your years of knowing her," Dan began, "What kind of presents does Serena like best?"
Before Nate could answer, there walked in the one person Dan had been privately praying he would not encounter: Vanessa Abrams in all her glory.
She kissed Nate quickly on the lips, and smiled at the sight of him. "Hey, Dan."
He was speechless to her casual hello. Here he was, ready to discuss the matter with his best—only, maybe—Upper East Side friend, and Vanessa had but to interrupt.
Though the boyfriend's best friend conflict triangle of him, Vanessa, and Serena was way over (Vanessa herself on a sweet romance with Nate), Dan would rather not prefer discussing indulging Serena with his best Brooklyn girl-friend, who clearly had diverting views of the socialite world and un-necessities of Serena's parties.
In other words, Vanessa was too much like him to view the world in an Upper East Side way.
"Whatever, and thanks for your time," he waved his hand to a puzzled Nate, packing up to leave, "I'll get her something."
Something. The word had been ringing in his head a whole day. Disturbing.
Dan returned to the apartment with a sinking heart. Classic line. It would have been an underestimation to say the feeling happened to him too many a time in his life.
Now there would be nothing to offer Serena, who'd clearly be disappointed in him, in forgetting her birthday—being a careless boyfriend, as compared to the luxurious gifts posh waspoids she had been involved with.
Why do I always fail? I tried. No one couldn't object to that. Yet fates continued to torment me endlessly, flipping events and people around. Dan thought glumly as he went up the stairs.
Slipping in the keys, Dan strolled in to find the rooms eerily dark, not a light on. What was Jenny on? Save the Earth? As he was about to press the on switch, his eyes, adjusting to the dimmed atmosphere, sighted the girl of his dreams.
Dan rushed to her side before Serena could say a word. "Serena?" he asked, genuinely confused. "What are you doing here…and, uh, happy birthday?"
"Jenny let me in. Surprise!" she smiled, "I hope you don't mind just celebrating here with you on my own birthday." Serena circled him, her voice teasing, "After all, it's my birthday. I get to decide."
He touched her wrist. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" she kissed him lightly on the nose. "You haven't done anything wrong, Daniel Humphrey."
He sighed, dejected. "It's your birthday. I—I was planning something special. And a present," Serena squeezed his hand gently. "But I still don't know what to get you, and now it's just too late."
She shook her head. "That's so sweet, but I don't mind a birthday without presents, Dan," holding his hands in hers, staring into his brown eyes. "All I want," the Van der Woodsen girl pressed her finger to his lips. "Is you, my dorky prince."
Dan chuckled, arms embracing her close. "So you're saying," he whispered into her ears, hands tracing her shoulders, "All my efforts were in vain?"
Serena nodded, entwining her hand in his. "Should've giftwrapped yourself to me."
"Next year, I promise," he joked, "There'll be a Dan package waiting for you at the door," his lips nuzzling, mapping her neck.
"Are we to spend an evening in the dark, Dan?" she breathed against his mouth.
"We could stay like this. Just us. Alone," He cupped her face to level with his. "If you like," kissing her fervently as a response.
"No," Serena replied, returning his kiss, her hands toying with his hair. "I wouldn't mind at all."
They were too lost in their own little reverie to realize the lights being switched on and the assembling of familiar figures in the room.
A flash blinded them both, and the couple abruptly detached from their kiss and embrace.
"Smile!" It was Chuck who held the camera, the rest of the Upper East Siders, including Jenny, chorusing, "Happy Birthday, Serena!"
Dan looked around awkwardly, while Serena had a trace of a grin on her face.
Everyone he had spoken to during the course of the day was here: Jenny, Blair, Chuck, Nate, Vanessa, and even Eric and Jonathan.
In the middle of them was a small vanilla cake, decorated with eighteen glowing candles.
Serena beamed at Dan, jabbing his chest mockingly. "And I thought my surprise was better than yours."
Scratching the back of his neck gawkily, Dan smiled back at his girlfriend, speechless. There was Jenny, giving him thumps-up from behind Nate's back. Blair raised an eyebrow as a comeback to his unanswered question, Chuck smirking beside her, their hands linked. Nate winked at him, at the same time as Vanessa clasped her hand over her mouth, calming down her giggles.
He mouthed a 'thank you,' to them all silently, as Serena tightened her grip on his hand, Vanessa mouthing, 'Don't mention it,' back.
"Just, thank you, Dan," Serena said to Dan quietly, "This is the best present—the best birthday ever."
Dan's heart skipped a beat as he kissed her hand.
How his (some labeled so-called) friends and sister managed to accomplish this amazing feat, he would never know.
But just enjoying life that instance, treasuring the memories with his love, watching Serena's eyes light up in delight as she blew the candles, Jenny laughing as she played with Eric and Jonathan, Chuck and Blair quarreling like an old married couple, and Nate and Vanessa having their glacé chit-chats over at the counter, was more than enough.
They were moments of his life he would never forget.
A/N: Aww. Dan Humphrey!! (Gives him a hug.)
I love you all, Gossip Girl characters.
And an infinity of xoxo's attached to thank you notes to my dear readers for their every hit and review!
Your ever humble fanfic writer :)